House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she agrees with critics who say an amendment included in the health care bill passed by the House would additionally limit access to abortion.
Pelosi acknowledged the scope of the amendment despite the fact that she said one of her goals is that access to abortion not be further limited by the health care overhaul.
Pelosi defended the vote on the bill, which includes the amendment, saying it was necessary to move the bill on to the Senate for more debate and negotiations. She said voting against the bill because of the amendment would have played into the hands of opponents of expanded health care.
"We were voting to advance the ball down the field," Pelosi said, speaking at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. "If we all voted against (the bill) ... all those who wanted to kill health care would have their victory disguised as an abortion amendment."
Although Pelosi said nothing is "nonnegotiable," she said she will also continue to fight for a strong public option in the final bill.
"I would have a hard time passing a bill in the House that didn't have a public option," she said.
The abortion measure would prohibit the proposed new government-run insurance plan from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life, and bar any health plan receiving federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace from offering abortion coverage.
If women wanted to purchase abortion coverage through such plans, they'd have to buy it separately, as a so-called rider on their policy.
The 240-194 vote on the amendment was a blow to liberals. The bill itself passed by a narrow 220-215 margin.
Proponents say the amendment simply ensures a long-standing ban on using federal dollars for elective abortions. Critics say the amendment would make it harder for millions of women to have health insurance that covers abortion.
Pelosi said she agreed with critics. That's the reason she said she allowed a separate vote on the amendment to give those opposed to the amendment a chance to cast a vote against it while still being able to vote in favor of the overall bill.
She criticized the proposal to allow women to buy abortion coverage separately, saying that pregnancies that end in abortion are unintended.
Pelosi said the focus of the bill should be on expanding health care, not abortion. She said one of the original goals of the negotiations was to neutralize the abortion issue by agreeing not to make any substantive changes _ either to further expand or limit access to the procedure.
"What is at stake for everyone is that, yes, we will have quality health care," she said.
Pelosi also said it would be very hard to round up Democratic votes in the House to support a big increase in troops into Afghanistan.
Her comments came as President Barack Obama said Friday that his decision about how many troops to send to Afghanistan will come soon and he is bent of "getting this right."
In a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Obama rejected claims that his administration is dithering. The policy must protect America from terrorist networks, Obama said, while also making clear there is no "open-ended commitment" to Afghanistan.